XIV Architecture: What’s Not to Like?

by Administrator on January 10, 2008

I am finding myself reading IBM’s blogger, Tony Pearson, more and more. His posts are coherent and, marketecture aside, filled with much useful information.  Also, he quotes me from time to time, despite being hammered whenever he does by EMCers.  (Thanks, Tony.)

I especially like the current post on IBM’s newly acquired XIV Architecture.  He explains “RAID-X” (something they should rebrand quickly, since it sounds more like roach spray than storage) as a mechanism for protecting data by storing objects on spare capacity presented by all of the drives in the disk array.  EMC commenters at once dismiss this approach as non-innovative (“We have been doing this on Centera for a long time…”) and as silly (“Or perhaps Moshe already convinced you all to ‘Mirror Everything?'”) 

Actually, these two statements seem contradictory to me, but this is just vendor-beating-up-on-vendor BS, so I ignore it.

If I am reading him correctly, Tony’s assertion is that disk drives are not the major cost component of an array:  it is firmware, software and services.  I agree completely that this is how the world is viewed by the three-letter guys in selling to the large enterprise.  At the large enterprise level, vendors always want to sell you more than you need — but the number of disk drives have tended to be less important than the number of service contracts and software licenses.  As in Robocop, where OCD’s directors don’t give a tinker’s damn about ED 209 hardware, the software and service contracts are where the real money is made.

This is the kind of thinking that now seems to be applied by the very same vendors in their creation and marketing of products to SMBs. And it is why, IMHO, the big brand vendors will not be as successful. 

The cost of a disk drive — the cost of anything for that matter — is critically important to the SMB.  So, it might be worthwhile for IBM to look at putting out a software-only version of XIV that can run on white boxes (or low cost arrays from “off-brand” manufacturers) as a alternative to expensive hardware RAID and mirroring solutions, which require the SMB to shell out for extra disks to protect the contents of other disks.  If XIV does what it claims, it sounds like it is “RAID X” (bug spray) for costly extra RAID arrays. 

Oops.  If they did something like that, sold “data protection as a service” software as a replacement for expensive RAID controllers, their enterprise customers might blow wise and start asking for similar alternative do-it-in-software approaches to drive cost out of their high end enterprise storage hardware too.  (Wouldn’t that put the kabosh on IBM’s NetApp re-branding deal pretty quickly?)

All of the above assumes that XIV operates as advertised.  I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know.  I have been hearing some interesting things about other companies that have similar functionality in soon to be released products.  Maybe RAID X is this year’s Thin Provisioning?   

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